Faith and heresy for Thinkers and Feelers

A reader asked a great question on my post about explaining myself, and I wanted to respond at length:

How do you reconcile this approach with the demands of Christianity to submit to authority (Scripture, the Church, sensus fidelium, etc)? Doesn’t Christianity demand not only that we conform to its doctrines, but also to be able to justify our ideas by appeal to the sources?

I’ve enjoyed your posts on being an INFP tremendously, and wanted to put some of your ideas into practice, but I’ve felt unsure of how to do so as a Catholic. What if I end up being a heretic?

I’m not a practicing Catholic, and my views are likely heterodox; but I can relate to your struggle.

Studying Catholic theology and philosophy as part of my own search left me with some big questions, especially when challenged by friends or family.

But I think there are a couple of different issues here.

The first issue is about me as an INFP having embraced my inferior function (extroverted Thinking) and subsequently letting go of it.

This is really a question of how we arrive at judgements, and I think you’ll find that Catholicism does not require you to arrive at judgements in a particular way, it just requires assent.

In that sense it doesn’t matter whether a person says “I feel this is true” or “I think this is true”.

There’s a lot of apologetics material out there that blames poor formation and sloppy thinking for the crisis in the Church and the broader culture.

Apologists have written in criticism of “feelings” as a basis for belief. But honestly that’s just a prejudice given by people (mostly Cholerics – xNTx) who want everyone to play on their intellectual “home turf”.

Feeling as a judging function in the Jungian/MBTI sense is more subjective, harder to communicate, and harder to scrutinise than Thinking; but that doesn’t mean it’s invalid.

No one can claim that Thinking renders people inerrant and brings only objectivity and convergence of opinion.

On the contrary, scripture and Church history are full of instances of conversion and holiness that have little to do with intellectual formation or education.

So who says that Thinking is superior to Feeling?

That brings me to the second issue: what is it that makes a person believe?

I don’t have a simple answer to this one. Faith is a gift – and a divinely infused virtue. If God decides whom to give faith to, then is there anything for us to worry about?

If you look at Aquinas on predestination, free will, and providence it is clear that nothing is outside of God’s command or God’s plan.

Yet even your grappling with questions such as these is part of God’s plan, is it not?

Does God make believers believe and heretics diverge?

When I start thinking about these kinds of questions I quickly resolve to a feeling that “all is well”. I trust that inner knowing, and it clearly transcends my intellectual activity without nullifying it.

What it does nullify are anxieties and worries, including (for me) any fear of being in the wrong.

I feel comforted by the knowledge that everything is in God’s hands and always has been, and our role in it all remains a mystery even though the outcome is guaranteed.

Isaiah’s words on the potter and the clay come to mind.

If that still doesn’t bring me to accept certain teachings, then that is how I am. In the end, if you don’t want to be a heretic that is a pretty good indicator that you won’t be.

Advertisements

The burden of free speech

My latest piece at MercatorNet looks at the burden of offensiveness implicit in a defense of free speech, of which Chesterton wrote:

This listening to truth and error, to heretics, to fools, to intellectual bullies, to desperate partisans, to mere chatterers, to systematic poisoners of the mind, is the hardest lesson that humanity has ever been set to learn.
This piece was prompted by a Tasmanian Greens party candidate’s complaint to the anti-discrimination commissioner about a document defending and explaining the Catholic church’s position on marriage.
How do we balance the offense felt by the complainant against the freedom of the church to express its own principles and tradition? The answer lies in Chesterton’s depiction of free speech not as a self-evident good, but as a terrible burden nonetheless worth bearing.

 

The rise and fall of religious music

Embed from Getty Images

I was raised Catholic but stopped going to church as a teenager, as soon as my parents would (reluctantly) allow it. I never found the Mass particularly interesting, inspiring, special, momentous, or mysterious – except in the sense that it was a complete mystery to me why these equally bored and unhappy-looking people continued to go to it week after week.

It wasn’t until many years later that I learned at least a part of the reason why a supposedly revolutionary and historically transformative religion could come across as so tedious and banal, seemingly comprised primarily of a set of goodwill gestures such as shaking hands with the people next to you, standing, sitting and kneeling at the same time as everyone else, and taking part in the whole rigmarole of receiving communion; the one-hour show interspersed with a set of slightly embarrassing hymns whose lyrics stood in stark contrast to the reality around me.

“We are the Church.
We are a people.
We’re called to bring Good News to birth.
We are the peace.
We are the promise of love outpoured
to renew the earth.”

Some promises, as they say, were never meant to be kept. All this emphasis on how great and promising and exemplary we were, only made the reality seem more dull. I’m not sure what inspired these songs, or what, if any, effect they were supposed to have on the congregation.

But people love them. These hymns, written and implemented from the 60s through to the 80s are a staple of the Catholic liturgical diet in the Western world. In 2004, for example, the readers of the English Catholic magazine The Tablet voted Dan Schutte’s ‘Here I am Lord’ as their favourite.

 

Schutte was one of the founding members of the St Louis Jesuits, described by wikipedia as:

a group of Catholic composers who popularized an Easy Listening/folk music style of church music through their compositions and recordings, mainly from their heyday in the mid `70s through the mid `80s.

It wasn’t until a few years ago that I discovered that Easy Listening/folk music wasn’t the intended musical form for the Catholic liturgy.

The intended musical form was, and still is, something more like this:

 

That’s an introit or entrance chant from Pentecost, just one of about a dozen components of the Mass that would traditionally be chanted like this. The chant itself has a varied history: beginning with the simpler ‘plainchant’ in the early Church, so-called Gregorian Chant emerged around the 9th Century, with diverse forms of it developing organically in different regions and monasteries.

For example, the simpler melodies of St Ambrose’ hymns from the 4th Century were so popular among the people, that his Arian opponents accused him of working with magic powers; to which Ambrose supposedly replied: “what can be more powerful than the confession of the Trinity, which is daily witnessed by the mouth of the entire people?”

 

At some point, people began adding a second voice to the Gregorian chant:

 

The development of multiple voices, or polyphony, eventually gave us the beautiful Renaissance polyphony from the likes of Byrd and Palestrina. Here is Byrd’s take on the introit Spiritus Domini. The countertenor starts with a solo part, the polyphony kicks in at 1:22.

 

Whole Masses were sung in polyphony, which though beautiful is also extremely difficult. But even beyond polyphony there were further developments, to a point where great composers like Mozart wrote entire Mass settings. Listen to the first couple of minutes of this Mass setting by Mozart:

 

That’s a lot of music for a simple ‘Kyrie Eleison’ – ‘Lord have mercy’.

As beautiful as it is, I can see why in 1903 Pope Pius X called for a return to Gregorian chant and a move away from theatrical orchestral settings generally:

“These qualities are to be found, in the highest degree, in Gregorian Chant, which is, consequently the Chant proper to the Roman Church, the only chant she has inherited from the ancient fathers, which she has jealously guarded for centuries in her liturgical codices, which she directly proposes to the faithful as her own, which she prescribes exclusively for some parts of the liturgy, and which the most recent studies have so happily restored to their integrity and purity.

On these grounds Gregorian Chant has always been regarded as the supreme model for sacred music, so that it is fully legitimate to lay down the following rule: the more closely a composition for church approaches in its movement, inspiration and savor the Gregorian form, the more sacred and liturgical it becomes; and the more out of harmony it is with that supreme model, the less worthy it is of the temple.

The ancient traditional Gregorian Chant must, therefore, in a large measure be restored to the functions of public worship, and the fact must be accepted by all that an ecclesiastical function loses none of its solemnity when accompanied by this music alone.

Special efforts are to be made to restore the use of the Gregorian Chant by the people, so that the faithful may again take a more active part in the ecclesiastical offices, as was the case in ancient times.”

Not only Pius X, but subsequent popes, Vatican II documents, and the new Mass itself called for Gregorian chant to take pride of place in the liturgy. As late as 1974 Pope Paul VI was calling for a minimum repertoire of Gregorian chant to be sung in parishes, including the Ordinaries of the Mass in Latin.

Why didn’t this happen? Why have we ended up with Easy Listening/folk/pop-inspired liturgical music? Why are parishes so hostile to Gregorian chant, to Latin, to the musical heritage of the Church? These questions and more will be answered in my next post….

Reason and reality – a talk

A couple of weeks ago I was invited to give a talk at the local Guild of St Luke, an association of Catholic Health Professionals. I was asked to speak as an ethicist, and it gave me the opportunity to revisit some of the most intriguing themes from my bioethics days.

For those who don’t know, Catholic health professionals work in a difficult environment these days. There is a growing push to remove conscientious objection rights from the medical profession, presenting people with an all-or-nothing dichotomy: violate your conscience or give up being a doctor. It’s good that such associations exist to give support and encouragement not only in a Catholic context, but in the broader domain of ethics and ‘best practice’.

Here’s the basic text of my 15 minute presentation:

At university I wasn’t impressed by ethics. I was more interested in mysticism: reading John of the Cross, Zen Buddhism and everything in between.

What I learned from studying ethics at uni was that we couldn’t rationally defend our moral beliefs because of the is-ought problem; the fact value distinction. You can prove a fact, an ‘is’, but you can’t prove an ‘ought’. As Nietzsche wrote: “there is no such thing as moral phenomena but only moral interpretation of phenomena.”

There might be no way to rationally demonstrate that I should do something, or should want to do something. But I still had a sense of the difference between good and evil. Even if I couldn’t prove it, or convince others, I could choose to follow this intuition. It wasn’t until after university, through my work at the Southern Cross Bioethics Institute, that I came across a system of ethics which resolved the is-ought problem. It was through the work of a neo-Aristotelian named David Oderberg, that I learned it was in fact possible to rationally demonstrate and elucidate moral principles.

The key is the observation that human beings all desire happiness, though they may never agree on what happiness is. This desire for happiness is a fact, an ‘is’. We are hard-wired to pursue what we believe will make us happy. This observation is the bridge from ‘is’ to ‘ought’. It is a fact all human beings share, from which we can derive the kinds of moral statements that are otherwise philosophically so contentious. Given that you want happiness you ought to do the things that will bring about true happiness, and avoid things that undermine it. How do we identify these things? Through logic, observation, and experience. This is the substance of ethics.

Along the way I picked up other principles and approaches that complement this ethical system: most significantly, the philosophical method of argument from first principles.

You see, in university I was struck by scepticism [an attitude of doubt, or a belief that true knowledge is impossible] and solipsism [the idea that only my own mind can be sure to exist, from solus ipse ‘self alone’]: two approaches that emphasise the limitations of our knowledge. How can we be sure of anything? How do we know the world is not a dream or illusion? Can we trust our senses? Is experience reliable? If you take on board too much scepticism, there is very little you can say. Scepticism can lend itself to a kind of relativism – an approach where the standard of truth are hard to pin down and the boundaries of knowledge and speculation disappear.

Modern philosophers are, if nothing else, very good at analytical coherence. They may not know if you are right or wrong, they may not agree on what right and wrong even mean, or if they even exist; but they can at least tell if you are being consistent and coherent. In a world of philosophical disagreement, you must at least agree with yourself.

As with the fact-value distinction, it can be hard to nail even the most coherent philosophising to the ground. Hard to bridge the gap between complex theorising and simple reality. This is where first principles become so important, especially in the practical approach to ethics – the difficult task of working out what I ought to be doing.

The first principles include:

1) An object cannot both be and not be, at the same time and in the same way.

2) Every effect has a cause, and every cause has an effect.

3) A thing is what it is.

These are basic observations of reality, and form also the basic principles of reason.

1) The principle of non-contradiction: a statement cannot be true and false at the same time, and in the same way.

2) The principal of sufficient reason: everything must have a reason or cause.

3) The principle of identity: A is A, every thing is what it is.

Knowledge of these first principles in reason and reality shows that reason and reality are connected. Our reason, logic, is derived from and a reflection of the logic of reality itself.

This is truly profound. And the more I reflected on these principles the more coherent and dynamic and integral they became. In order to speak and think rationally, we must respect these principles. If we don’t then not only are we being irrational, we are being unrealistic.

Reality – coming from the Latin res – simply means ‘all things’; the rules of reality are the rules all things obey. Not the physical rules but the deeper ontological rules. Things do not simply come into and out of existence for no reason. Objects are not both square and round, or both big and small, in the same way and at the same time. All things obey these rules, and these are the same rules or principles we acknowledge is the basis of reason – our reason.

Is it a coincidence that Christian Scripture and the early Church chose the Greek term logos – the principle of order, the active reason pervading and animating the universe, the anima mundi – to describe the son of God, through whom all things were made, and whose life is the light of men?

For me this was the point at which philosophy and Christianity first intersected, a coming together of natural and revealed theology. In practical terms, and remembering ethics as practical reasoning, this understanding of the logos at work in reality and in our own minds is one of the most reassuring, comforting, and inspiring things one could hope to learn.

It means that no matter how difficult life may become, this universe, reality itself, is not absurd. The stones themselves cry out in the language of reason, declaring the first principles and thereby telling us something of the nature of our maker.

Reason is some part of the life and nature of God, the ipsum esse subsistens; and in our participation in reason, I think we are more truly taking part in the life our creator intended for us. Any philosopher will, I hope, attest to the joy and delight of elevated reason.